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‘Friends of Hovis Night’, Commerce House, Bolton, 27th June 2015.

9 Jul

10498493_10152930500195770_8362558069246030522_oAlmost a fortnight too late for me to be immediate with my excitement, but after several years of lamenting the dwindling local music and social scene in Bolton, it was so good to see an event that surpassed all expectations. The event, a night in honour of the late Bolton comedian Richard ‘Hovis Presley’ McFarlane, was a resounding success, and for anyone who grew up within the once vibrant alternative scene of the town, it was a grin inducing return to form. Organised by Bolton stalwarts, including DJ Paul Tattersall (Pauly T), the night included punk poetry, real ales, a huge hall for dancing and general socialising (the wonderful Art Deco Commerce House), and live performances from Badly Drawn Boy and The Smiths Ltd.

The emphasis on the local made this all the more special (Badly Drawn Boy grew up in Breightmet, Bolton, and The Smiths Ltd. pay homage to arguably the most revered Manchester band). Badly Drawn Boy (alias Damon Gough) offered his usual lengthy anecdotes, which if I’m honest, can sully an otherwise entertaining set of acoustic gems. As for The Smiths Ltd, they were far more in tune with the audience’s expectations of an indie Saturday night, encouraging much Morrissey-esque dancing and singalongs. Some very good vocals there from the actual band leader, but also excellent guitar work from Alex Gaskell, who I’m happy to name drop as a friend of mine. His Johnny Marr ‘impersonation’ is so good you’ll almost forget it’s not him, plus the attention to detail gives you a real sense of The Smiths in 1987 (all their instruments and equipment match that used on the Smiths’ final tour), although as with many tribute bands we’re faced with the odd sight of a lookalike band who are slightly more mature than the band they are paying tribute to.

But ultimately what makes a great evening is the people, and the Bolton indie and rock community came out in their droves, and that includes faces old and new. Hopefully this is a new beginning for a town that used to offer so much, and not a false dawn. More of this please!

All donations from this concert went to the charity Shelter. If you would like to make a contribution to Shelter, please click the link below:

Ice on Fire: an enduring love for Ravel’s Bolero and the talent of Torvill and Dean.

14 Feb

This St. Valentine’s Day, I’ve received a timely reminder of a couple I’ve known about for thirty years, but only more recently did I come to realise that they were never the passionate lovers their ice skating routines suggested. But Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s close friendship has endured, and with it their love of their sport, which is almost a performance art. Despite their numerous performances, their 1984 dance to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, remains their most famous and arguably finest five minutes.

Plus thirty years later and they can still make it happen on the ice. Torvill and Dean were invited back to Sarajevo, where it all happened for them, to recreate their gold winning 1984 Olympic dance. Next time anybody moans they’re too old to do this or that, I kindly suggest they stop talking, and instead spend the energy on doing what they love and are good at…here is exhibit A. They are still fantastic:

Bolero thus became my own introduction to classical music, at the age of eleven. I still love it, although Ravel was occasionally dismissive of its power. Ravel once said that the piece had, “no form, properly speaking, no development, or almost no modulation”, and yet he confessed to having a surefire hit on his hands. The full version is over seventeen minutes long, much longer than the specially abridged version Torvill and Dean accompanied. Premiered at the Paris Opera on the 22nd November 1928, it proved to be a sensation; the audiences loved it. The well known dancer Ida Rubinstein originally commissioned the piece, but it went through many changes before the version we know today emerged (Ravel was originally going to make an orchestral transcription based on a set of piano pieces by composer Isaac Albeniz, before eventually creating his own original one-movement orchestral piece).

Bolero is a repetitive movement, to be sure, but that is no criticism. On the contrary, the instruments build up the whirlpool of sound slowly and hypnotically; the sound of passion climbing to the all embracing exhaustion and flood of climax. When Torvill and Dean chose it as the soundtrack to their emotional dance in 1984, it was stroke of true inspiration.

In the program for the work’s 1928 debut, the following scenario appeared, scripted by Rubinstein and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska:

Inside a tavern in Spain, people dance beneath the brass lamp hung from the ceiling. [In response] to the cheers to join in, the female dancer has leapt onto the long table and her steps become more and more animated.

However, returning to the talent of Torvill and Dean; seriously, if you’ve never seen this, watch it now. It has the same effect on me as it did as a kid; you will not be able to take your eyes off the screen. They are riveting and with what starts happening around four minutes in I’m surprised the ice didn’t start to thaw. Passion and lust and a touch of the beautifully tragic; there’s  a story in those moves.

Somewhere Maurice Ravel was smiling in approval.

Don’t ruin New York before I get there!

2 May

Two friends of mine have suggested a road trip across the United States. As I live hundreds of miles away in England, this isn’t the first suggestion I’d have for a cheap holiday (or one that requires just a week). Anyway, in the spirit that I’m provisionally up for this idea, and with the thinking that the more I want it to happen the more it shall (economics and work leave permitting), I got to thinking of some of the sights I’d like to experience on the potential first US stop of this would-be tour. We’ve talked about landing at JFK Airport, ‘doing’ New York, heading up into New York State and the Catskills to see some of my friend’s friends, before heading across to Chicago. Parts of the old Route 66 will hopefully feature, and if I don’t see Monument Valley before I drop off my perch, I’ll be all the slightly more disgruntled (presuming I get the opportunity for such quibbles when my physical battery leaks). LA is our last stop, if this dream scheme gets off the ground.

Anyway, this is all pie in the sky at present, but it got me looking at New York in more detail, and the possibility that the underbelly of NY (it’s more subversive and creative aspects if you will) might have changed beyond recognition in recent years. Although ostensibly a film by women for women, Desperately Seeking Susan first introduced me to this side of the city when I was a teenager. Of the locations seen in that film, the cool thrift shop Love Will Save the Day is now gone, along with the trendy Manhattan club Danceteria. But Battery Park City promenade is still there, and much of the city in a film of that vintage is going to resemble what’s there now, I would expect. But seeing the outside of what was iconic live den CBGBs, for example, isn’t going to be the same as seeing its interior, and the place actually being active. Just as Bernie Sumner, of Joy Division and New Order, once pondered that the Manchester of the late ‘70s was like living in some Eastern Bloc country, but still inspired such great music, so the NYC of the recent past was less than inviting to some but inspired (or allowed for) such wonderful creativity. The place that gave us Blondie and The Ramones was crime ridden and filthy, but the visual and aural evidence suggests a vibrancy and life that I really hope hasn’t been lost in the apparently successful attempts to clean up and modernise the city.


But I’ll see when I eventually get there won’t I! Another film that has had a lasting impact on me is Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffanys, based on the Truman Capote story. God, what am I saying…I’d like to think you knew that already. So yes, two of my favourite New York films are Desperately Seeking Susan and Breakfast At Tiffanys. Who knew! Forget Taxi Driver, these are my NYC classics, and I’m not even a girl! Or gay!

Also, one of my favourite albums is The Doors second, from 1967, which is Strange Days. I won’t go into the music here, but the cover, with photography by Joel Brodsky, is an emotive winner. Looking like it was shot in some Eastern European location, the atmospheric looking mews in the photo is actually Sniffen Court, off East 36th Street. Another location to visit in my personal NYC itinery.

Some great web links here, well worth checking out. The Sets of New York one is quite extensive. NYC really has been the living set of so many great films. I’m thinking it may be a case of blissfull sensory overload when I get there.  I may have some kind of fatal orgasm when I see the Empire State Building.

I shall keep you all posted!


Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985, and more recently:

Sniffen Court, and as it was in 1967 for Strange Days:

She was only a grocer’s daughter.

11 Apr

From spotting the first “ding dong, the witch is dead” comments on social media, it became quickly clear that Margaret Thatcher had died and a lot of people were rather happy about it, as crass as that seems.
Now, this is primarily a blog about popular culture, film and music, and directly political posts would seem out of my self appointed remit, but Thatcher’s influence on the arts (and music in particular) is the tangible link I’m going to cling to for her inclusion in the blog.

Thanks are also due to The Blow Monkeys and their 1987 album title for inspiring its use as the title of this blog entry. I’d like to think of it as a mark of respect to be honest; Margaret Thatcher came from humble beginnings and showed us that through hard work and dedication you could become arguably the most powerful woman in the country.

Not that my opinion of her is all that positive. Here’s what I said on Facebook two days ago, in response to other posters (many much younger than myself or just ill informed) who seemed to have little or no idea about why she was attracting so much vitriol. I did draw the line at suggesting we should throw a street party, I feel I have to add! Here’s what I said:

I’ve seen comments (some from people who were born after Thatcher left government) saying that the response to her death has been ‘a bit harsh’ and ‘out of order’. Out of order? A bit harsh? Like what happened in the riots of 1981 was out of order? Or the systematic destruction of the coal and steel industries? Or the disproportionate power given to the City while the economy was not supported elsewhere? She brought down the left, the Labour movement and the work of post-war social democracy, which some of us hold quite important…we are in a society that is still in the shadow of Thatcherism, as it still does not truly represent the working man and woman. This is not Ancient Rome; we don’t have to deify our dead leaders. Millions of people feel the same way and the right to express it (for some of the reasons mentioned), whilst causing no harm to others, is our absolute right. While it must be a sad time for her family, she was a politician, and should be judged separately on that fact.

But I wasn’t finished there. Oh no.

..and the harboring of a south American mass murderer. The sanctioning of the Hillsborough cover up. The purposeful degradation of Republican areas in Northern Ireland. The almost complete selling off of the north sea oil fields for what has turned out to be just a dollar a barrel royalty. I could go on to mention devastating effect of the plundering of the social housing stock and other things but you get the picture. Not to mention her support for apartheid. (which I obviously did mention!)

Now, perhaps in retrospect that was a bit biased to the Left, but then again I am a Guardian reading, equal rights supporting, environmentally aware Leftie git with no more interest in any right wing activities than, for example, (and to use a blatant stereotype here), fox hunting than, well, say a fox.

However, when you consider that some of the most convincing and creative endeavours can come as a response to something an artist really doesn’t like, then it’s not hard to see how Thatcher has inspired at least one generation, even if it was ‘only’ strapping on an acoustic guitar, writing some lyrics and doing a Billy Bragg. Artistic triumph in the face of adversity; socking it to The Man, or more particularly in this case, The Woman.

Anyway, here are a few of my favourite anti-Thatcher sentiments, as expressed musically. Many are actually from the ‘80s and the heart of the strong feeling projected towards her cabinet’s policies. Hopefully the Youtube links stay around for a while.

Morrissey: “Margaret on the guillotine”

Elvis Costello: “Tramp the dirt down”.

Billy Bragg: “Thatcherites”

Crass: “Sheep Farming in the Falklands”

The The: “Heartland”

You can’t sing, you can’t dance, you look awful…you’ll go a long way! (Childhood memories of early ’80s pop).

18 Oct

The early 1980s were an odd time for pop music. There’s a common train of thought that it normally chugs its way through the station marked “Craptown”. But, I have to argue, it isn’t all true. Now, before I continue, I have to say nothing with regard to music winds me up more than ‘80s revisionists. What was embarrassing and without worth in 1981 is going to be pretty much the same thirty years later, perhaps more so. Then again, some things have a kind of period charm (as they often do), like Toyah’s haircuts and dress sense, for example. Alright, so you’re not with me on that one, but you get the idea.

Now, there was some very innovative stuff going on in the post-punk era, no doubt about that. However, that’s not to say a lot of commercial pop music in the early ‘80s was bloody awful; synthetic, irony free and badly written. Oddly these are some of the reasons why some of it is actually quite good, almost deserving respect due to its brash sense of the audacious. Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” couldn’t be anymore crap if it called itself “Kids in Milton Keynes”, but somehow it works. But some producers knew how to take cheese and add it to a really good omelette, so to speak. Giorgio Moroder springs to mind straight away. When he produced Blondie’s “Call me” he had a good group and a good song to work with, so perhaps he was usually just lucky. It’s also telling that there was something of a ‘60s revival in the early ‘80s, as well as this era being the aftermath of Punk. So what you got, quite often, was a bizarre combination of classic pop sensibility, to get clichéd, with often shockingly inappropriate and experimental electronics. Continue reading

Re-entering ‘The House of Daemon’- a cult British comic classic.

16 Jul

Readers in the UK will need no encouragement in discussing the weather. As a recognised national pastime, discussion of the elements has currently been given an extra source of vitriol (always the spice in any on-going argument) by the sheer grey gruesomeness of this island nation’s cloud cover. Summer isn’t sunny; alright, so we’re not the Costa Del Sol, but July 2012 has been especially grim. Despite the attempts at some distracting nationalistic colour in the shape of the Queen’s Jubilee and Wimbledon’s first British finalist in over seventy years, I’m thinking that most Brits are feeling literally under the weather.

So, as this is the perfect weather for sitting in and having a good read, and in the mind set of monochrome, let’s unearth this gothic jewel from many a thirty something boy’s past…from a time when comics played a big part in kids’ lives, and we were entertained by far more subversive and creative fare than arguably those on offer to a current generation…..I give you “The House of Daemon”, from the early 1980s incarnation of Eagle comic, scripted by John Wagner and Alan Grant (of 2000 AD fame), and beautifully illustrated by Spanish artist Jose Oritz.

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The forgotten pop of Susan Fassbender

2 Mar

The rubbish dump of pop’s past is littered with almost countless lost artistes, forgotten careers and one hit wonders. There are as many fascinating stories to be found behind these perceived failures as there is behind the great chart successes. One such story that came to my attention recently is the tale of Susan Fassbender,  who I believe warrants a second look and listen if only because for British TV viewers of a certain age, she’ll be remembered for several appearances on Chegger’s Plays Pop and The Multi-coloured Swap Shop. That at least gives some of us a nostalgic glow, but the sad irony is that despite this association with an innocent childhood past, a little digging reveals that Fassbender’s life later took a darker path.

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Dice, Rulebooks, Character sheets….Action! Role Playing Games: The enduring memories of a cult hobby

25 Nov

The 1983 edition of Basic D&D: More ’80s than a ‘Frankie Says’ T-Shirt.

The last time I played a video game properly, where I actually knew what I was doing, was many years ago. Sure, I’ve tried some game my nephew had (was it Call of Duty?  I don’t know, but it just seemed very violent and relentlessly scary, you know, like I was really going to get shot). Even Tomb Raider seemed a bit more fun than this. In my comfort zone of yore, I’m actually going back to games like Attic Attack, where the graphics on the screen were engaging and colourful but (let’s be fair) were in no way realistic. A barely three dimensional effect one colour dungeon with giant keys and exaggerated skeletons is hardly the kind of thing you think would have had ‘moral watchdog’ Mary Whitehouse worried. If Whitehouse was alive today, she’d be having some sort of arrest after viewing Call of Duty III. Plus, given that many of the games of the ‘80s required some sort of intellectual application and logic, you’d think the media of the time would be quite supportive. Infact, as some of these fantasy games involved sitting around a table talking to each other and using English and Maths skills and a lot of imagination, well, you’d expect them to practically be on the school curriculum. Well, sadly not, no… Continue reading